What is “The Cloud?”

Often we hear about services moving to the cloud. Sometimes people ask what makes a “cloud”. From the perspective of a user or subscriber of cloud services, the answer is pretty simple: technology somewhere else. When purchasing cloud services, you are paying someone else to manage your technological resources. The benefits include universal access and high availability. Whatever technology is required to deliver it, the cost is included in the price per month, hour, or minute. If you have an Internet connection, you simply access it.

From the perspective of the cloud vender, the “cloud” is a bunch of computers in one or more data centers, nationally or internationally. Redundancy is key, because an outage or loss of data is reputation damaging. For each geographical location, redundancy is required for sources of electricity and Internet up-links, for AC units, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), firewalls, networking switches, storage infrastructure, and finally, the computers that provide the services. All of this infrastructure must be actively monitored for events that may degrade service. It is complicated, expensive, and prone to failure.

What is really being sold is expertise, redundancy, and convenience. It is not limited to individuals. Smart cloud vendors allow for companies to buy/rent cloud infrastructure to build their business. Put another way, with a credit card and cloud infrastructure, it is possible to build an Internet presence or commerce site, without any hardware. For start up companies, this is fabulous.

Are there downsides to using the cloud? Well, to name a few:

* You may need to purchase new – possibly more expensive – software licenses that allow for remote use. Most off-the-shelf software prohibits this usage model.

* If your organization loses its technical expertise, it will be difficult and more expensive for it to return.

* Clouds do go off-line.

* Is your data your data? You should have your lawyer review the terms of service, since it is a contract. You may be surprised to find out you are granting the cloud provider access rights to your data.

Will I use cloud services? Yes, probably on a system level, not service level.

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